Let’s face it; us women are gifted every month with hormonal fluctuations that aren’t always so pleasant to navigate. Hormonal imbalances can result in weight gain, anxiety, fatigue, muscle mass loss, muscle weakness, low libido and sexual performance issues, hair loss, sleep disturbances, brain fog, mood instability, hot flashes, vaginal dryness and infertility.
The peaks and nadirs are often so abrupt that we literally feel dizzy, nauseated and undisposed. But does it really have to be such a turbulent relationship?
We can regain control over our hormones by implementing simple, yet effective lifestyle and dietary changes.
It starts with food
Yes, there’s no escaping it. The junk food has got to go!
Remove all refined and processed grains, sugar, processed soy, caffeine, and industrial seed oils (corn oil, canola oil, safflower oil, soybean oil…). These foods contribute to blood sugar imbalances (that will negatively impact your hormones) and promote inflammation in the body, in addition to being virtually devoid of nutrients.
Instead, chose complex carbohydrate sources, such as sweet potatoes, yams, plantains, squashes, rutabaga, turnips, parsnips, cruciferous veggies (like broccoli, kale, cauliflower, watercress) green leafy vegetables (spinach, mustard greens, collard greens, chard…) and sprouts, such as broccoli sprouts.
Focus on healthy fats like avocado and avocado oil, coconut oil, ghee (clarified butter), extra virgin olive oil, olives, nuts and nut butters, seeds and seed butter (particularly sunflower and pumpkin).
Protein is also a must, particularly for appropriate blood sugar balance. Fatty sources of protein such as wild-caught salmon, sardines, and herring are rich in omega 3 that help combat inflammation. Grass-fed meats are also a great source of omega 3 and CLA (which promotes modest weight loss) while being rich in B vitamins, zinc, selenium, iron, potassium, and antioxidant vitamins A & E (1, 2, 3,).
Spice it up! Add herbs and spices as condiments to your food: turmeric, cumin, cardamon, thyme, rosemary, oregano, basil, tarragon, ginger, curry, and cayenne pepper. Don’t be fooled by the seemingly small portions; these herbs and spices are powerhouses of phytochemicals with antioxidant, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal and anti-cancer benefits.
Additionally, do your best to purchase organic produce and meats as conventional fruits & vegetables and animal products are respectively laden with endocrine disrupting pesticides, herbicides, and antibiotics and added hormones, which interfere with proper hormonal function and balance while also harming our gut flora (4, 5).
Endocrine disrupting chemicals has such an impact on our hormones because of their strong potential to bind to estrogen and androgen receptors and then mimic the natural hormone’s action. They also interfere with the synthesis, transport, metabolism and elimination of hormones, thereby decreasing the concentration of natural hormones (4).
Personal care products
Beware of the chemicals lurking in your personal care products.
Placental extracts, probably with high concentrations of the hormone progesterone and estrogenic chemicals are sometimes used in cosmetics and hair care products (to promote growth and thickness of hair), particularly products marketed to women of color. Additionally, hormones (especially estrogens) are often added to anti-aging creams due to their effectiveness in raising collagen count and increasing skin hydration (5).
Furthermore, nail polishes, make-up, perfumes, moisturizers, hair care products, shaving creams and hair sprays contain parabens and phthalates both of which act as hormone disruptors. Parabens have a weak estrogenic effect and have been found in breast cancer tissue while phthalates may affect the normal production of androgens (testosterone) (6, 7, 8).
Make sure you get enough good quality sleep. While it can be tempting to watch Game of Thrones at 10:00 PM to unwind from a long day (a total oxymoron), if it means you’re cutting hours from sleep time, you may risk feeling even more tired, hungry, and on edge the following day.
Sleep restriction results in metabolic and endocrine alterations, including decreased glucose tolerance, decreased insulin sensitivity, increased evening concentrations of cortisol (stress hormone), increased levels of ghrelin (hunger hormone), decreased levels of leptin (satiety and metabolism thermostat = eat more and gain more weight!) (9).
Practice stress management – chronic stress reeks havoc on your hormones. And there’s a purpose to it, which is not to make you miserable, though it may seem.
From the better part of human evolution, there were predators lurking around readily awaiting to prey upon appetizing creatures. Thankfully, humans were gifted with a highly effective system (sympathetic nervous system) that prompted us to be on the lookout and to run for dear life, when needed.
However, this fight or flight response triggers the downregulation of all bodily functions that aren’t immediately needed when running from a predator. And that involves proper hormonal function.
Think about it – how worried would you be about procreation, PMS, high blood sugar and losing weight if there was a tiger chasing you?
But in modern times the new predators come in the form of nagging bosses, financial hardships, family issues, keeping up with the Joneses… And so the body doesn’t really know the difference – it’s still running from a predator, just a different one. As consequence, your thyroid, adrenal and sex hormones suffer, resulting in a whole host of issues.
While we should be thankful to our bodies for this protective mechanism (it means well), we don’t want to be in high alert at all times. You can activate the parasympathetic nervous system (the digest and relax part of our nervous system) by incorporating simple practices in your routine.
You can try deep breathing, yoga or meditation everyday even if only for 10 minutes a day. Go to the beach, to the mountains, to the forrest and connect with nature. If you manage to fit physical activity while at it, even better.
The are also a few adaptogenic herbs such as Ginseng, Rhodiola rosea, Siberian ginseng, Cordyceps, and Ashwagandha that can help you adapt and balance your response to stress. Additionally, a B-complex, magnesium and zinc can also be helpful in promoting a healthy stress response.
You can do it!
Most importantly, do not be overwhelmed even if it seems like you have to demo old habits and rebuild new ones in the path to hormonal bliss.
Take it easy. Start slowly. Do one thing at the time. Little by little it becomes a lot.